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BYU takes different tack with recruiting

Even now, as the season becomes more intense and the games more important, college football coaches work feverishly to line up next year’s recruiting classes.

They sell themselves and their programs to high school seniors, making the all-out push to convince recruits to at least visit campus.

But it’s a lot different at Brigham Young. The Cougars want top recruits to come to Provo, Utah, but their method of getting players to commit is unlike many other schools’.

Prospects must sell themselves to BYU — not the other way around.

“I have to be convinced why they want to come and why they should be able to be on our team. Players that want to be coddled and want to be catered to don’t come, and some are good LDS players,” Cougars fourth-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We want them to be passionate about the chance to play at BYU. I really don’t have much time for those that want to be convinced.

“I’m not saying we don’t have all the right things to win, but I think it’s degrading as a coach to try to convince an 18-year-old young man why he should come to your place. I know that’s contrary to most recruiting thoughts, but I like young men that know what they want and are willing to pursue it, and they convince others of where they’re going in life.”

That approach helps explain where BYU stands in the college football world.

Even though the No. 18 Cougars (6-1, 2-1 Mountain West Conference) are coming off a 32-7 loss at Texas Christian on Oct. 16, they remain the league’s flagship program.

The two-time defending conference champions are a longtime player on the national stage. BYU is to football-playing Mormons what Notre Dame is to Catholics.

“We have a lot of kids who grow up dreaming of playing for BYU,” Cougars defensive end Jan Jorgensen said. “They see BYU on TV, their parents love BYU. … They don’t dream about going to USC or to Notre Dame or to Florida State or any of those big schools.”

That natural draw helps the Cougars be choosy when deciding which athletes to offer scholarships.

Mendenhall took over a BYU team that had losing records from 2002 to 2004 and was receiving almost as much negative attention for off-field problems. Mendenhall restored the Cougars’ public image and won along the way in going 34-11 entering Saturday’s 11 a.m. PDT game against visiting UNLV (3-4, 0-3).

“We had a few years there where we weren’t winning a lot of games, and I think it was because we weren’t recruiting the right type of guys,” BYU quarterback Max Hall said. “A lot of guys were getting into trouble and weren’t getting the job done. Coach Mendenhall does a good job of bringing the right type of guys, who are disciplined and work hard.”

Mendenhall learned early the importance of making it clear who runs that program.

Shortly after he took over following the 2004 season, some BYU administrators talked to him about themes for the program. After some back-and-forth for two days, Mendenhall left no doubt on the third day about the themes he wanted to define his vision — “tradition, spirit and honor.”

“I learned a valuable lesson that if you’re not clear about what you want, others will tell you what they want,” Mendenhall said. “I think they saw a young and naïve head coach that they had a chance to shape and direct the direction of the program.”

No one these days questions who’s in charge.

That applies to highly sought prospects who make or break other programs but must sell themselves to BYU.

“Many have said that’s why we wouldn’t succeed,” Mendenhall said, “and I would argue it’s the reason we are (successful).”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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